Your Italy distributor or agent: how to find the best one?

Contracts and Negotiations in Italy

Italy: Food, Fashion, Furniture and more…

Italy is the fifth economy in Europe and can therefore be an interesting market for many producers and service providers. With about 60 million inhabitants and an economy that is slowly coming up to speed again this may be the moment to set up your distribution there.

How to find your agent or distributor?

Rome is the capital, but most of the economic activity is in the North, mainly focused around Milan. Depending on your product one of these cities (or both) should be your starting point. From there you can approach the other cities.  In Italy there are a lot of medium-sized family businesses, so it can be difficult to find one distributor for the whole country.

Finding an agent or distributor requires good knowledge of the Italian language and a good understanding of the culture. Without this it will be difficult to get access to the market.

Alliance experts can find the right agent or distributor within 6 to 8 weeks

Alliance experts helps companies with entering new markets profitably. Our specialists are based in Rome and Milan and can find you the right agents or distributors.

We have a clear and structured approach to find the best partner

We first want to know what kind of partner you are looking for. Based on your information, we make a long-list of 15-20 potential partners that fit your description. After your approval we find the right decision maker, approach him or her personally and share your business profile with them. This mostly leads to 3-5 companies who are suitable as your partner and interested in working with you. Once we have found these companies, we plan your meetings and accompany you during the first visits.


What do we know about Italian consumers?

The former group of Italians are concentrated mainly in the North, while the latter lot reside in the South Italy. North Italy is where most of the economic activity and business occurs while agricultural activities are undertaken in the fertile soils of South Italy. Owing to this, North Italy is naturally wealthier than the rest of the nation.

Italy is the third-largest economy in the euro-zone and began to recover in 2015, with marginal growth and a slight reduction in unemployment.

  • Labor force:                                       25.85 million (2020 est.)
  • Unemployment rate:                       9.95% (in 2019)

Italy’s 60.2 million residents have an average income of $26,588 a year.  The average Italian consumer is a cautious spender and prefers a good bargain. Italians expect good after sales service and are proud and affectionate to their products in some categories. There is currently a slight deflation.

What do people import in Italy?

Imports to Italy increased 2.9 percent to €34.1 billion in November of 2020 from €35.2 billion in the same month of the previous year, led by a rise in purchases of capital (+10.7 percent), consumer (+6.4 percent) and intermediate (+4.8 percent) goods.

In contrast, energy products dropped 30.6 percent. Among sectors, imports of motor vehicles (+30.9 percent) and medical, pharmaceutical and chemical products (+16 percent) rose while imports of crude oil (-42.4 percent) and natural gas (-27.5 percent) fell sharply.

The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in Italy’s import purchases during 2019.

  • Energy: US$38.7 billion
  • Machines, engines, pumps: $26 billion
  • Vehicles: $36.3 billion
  • Electronic equipment: $17.1 billion
  • Pharmaceuticals: $20.6 billion
  • Plastics: $18.3 billion
  • Iron and steel: $13.3 billion
  • Organic chemicals: $16.1 billion
  • Medical, technical equipment: $13 billion
  • Gems, precious metals, coins: $15.4 billion

The growth in imports mainly reflected the rise in purchases from Japan (+55.5 percent), Belgium (+28.4 percent), Czech Republic (+24.3 percent) and ASEAN (+19.6 percent). In contrast, imports from Russia (-31.8 percent) and Middle Eastern countries (-29.2 percent) fell.

From a continental perspective, 67% of Italy’s total imports by value in 2015 were purchased from other European countries. Asian trade partners supplied 20.3% of import sales to Italy while 5.2% worth originated from African exporters. At 4.6%, a smaller percentage originated from North America.

What are the major ports of Italy?

Major container port(s) (TEUs):

  • Gioia Tauro (2,264,798),
  • Genoa (1,847,648),
  • La Spezia (1,307,274)

Major airports of Italy are:

  • Rome Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino, Rome
  • Milan Malpensa, Milan
  • Milan Linate, Milan
  • Bergamo, Bergamo
  • Venice Marco Polo, Venice

What are the customs and tariffs regulations in Italy?

As an EU member, Italy’s customs and tariffs are influenced by the Union.

  • For certain categories, EU-wide standards and specifications are applied. You can check whether your products are included here. If you are in the chemical industry, your products must be registered in the REACH database before you can do business in the EU. This is applicable whether you are a manufacturer, importer, distributor, retailer or a downstream user, using any chemicals in your business. Qualified products will have a CE mark.
  • Italy’s standard import duties vary depending on the product.
  • If you are exporting to Italy, you need to make sure that your products and packaging meet EU’s regulations.
  • Imports of the followings are prohibited in the EU:
    • Live animals and animal products
    • Pirated/ Counterfeit goods
    • Goods containing certain chemicals
    • Genetically modified organisms

What is the distribution structure in Italy?

The Italian economy show signs of slow but continuous recovery, as consumer spending continued to strengthen in the second half of the year 2020. During the first 11 months of 2015, overall retail sales value increased by 0.5%, with positive variations both in the food and non-food segments (+0.3% and +0.7% respectively).

In Italy, the food retail and distribution sector continues to be quite fragmented. About 75% of the sales are in modern retail structures and chains, the remaining is done in a large number of specialized or traditional grocery stores. Fortunately, consolidation is gaining momentum with Italian and foreign operators starting to expand their network of stores.

Rank Retailer Turnover Nr. of stores
1 Coop Italia 14,800 1,118
2 Conad 13,400 2,664
3 Selex 10,900 2,500
4 Esselunga 7,914 157
5 Carrefour 5,265 959
6 Crai 6,148 3,600
7 Auchan 4,330 340
8 Eurospin 5,860 1,050
9 Despar 3,509 1,244
10 Gruppo Végé 6,148 3,054

Due to Italy’s geographical nuances with relation to its consumer base, an in-depth understanding of the local market will be extremely beneficial for you if you wish to enter this market. Apart from knowledge of the customer base, knowing about major gateways, legal matters as well as the distribution structure is crucial to your expansion. Having a sales agent will help you in Italy’s market and ensure optimal results for your strategies.

Share this article

Download our

Market entry approach

Read in detail how we conduct market entry projects, what steps we take and what you need to prepare.

    First name

    Last name

    Email address

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA, our privacy policy, the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

    Market entry cases

    EEPC India
    CAN Home appliances
    Le Joyau d’Olive
    HCP – the sweetener company
    De Heus
    Golden Red Trade Solution
    RR Engineers
    Apart Group